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In our news wrap Wednesday, a UN report found that civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan rose by 22 percent last year. It also said more Afghans died in battles between the Taliban and government forces than from bombs, unlike previous years. Also, a Southern deep freeze caused ice-coated branches to take down power lines, leaving 250,000 people in the dark.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose by 22 percent last year. An annual U.N. report showed 3,699 Afghan civilians were killed and nearly 7,000 were wounded. It also found more Afghans died in battles between the Taliban and government forces than from bombs. That's a change from previous years.
In Kabul, the human rights director for the U.N. mission said women and children were especially hard-hit.
GEORGETTE GAGNON, Human Rights Director, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: We saw a 40 percent increase in children causalities, with some 2,700 children killed and injured compared to 2013 and an increase in women causalities by 21 percent, with some 300 women killed and 611 injured.
The rise in casualties was attributed largely to the use of mortars, rockets and grenades in populated areas of Afghanistan.
A deep freeze gripped the Southeastern U.S. today. Snow and ice that blanketed the states the day before refroze overnight and created treacherous conditions. The weight of ice-coated branches brought down power lines; 250,000 people in the region are still without electricity. And even colder temperatures are looming. Forecasters warned the mercury could plummet to record levels tomorrow.
President Obama has tapped Joseph Clancy to be the next director of the Secret Service. Clancy had been in charge on an interim basis for the past four months. He will succeed Julia Pierson, who was forced to step down after the agency suffered a string of security lapses and misconduct scandals.
Oregon has a new governor, after its longest-serving chief executive resigned in disgrace. Democrat Kate Brown pledged to — quote — "restore the public's trust" during a ceremony at the state capitol in Salem. She was previously the Oregon secretary of state, the state's second most powerful position. Brown also becomes the first openly bisexual governor in the country.
Anyone who began enrolling in the latest round of sign-ups for federal health insurance will get more time to finish up. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said about 150,0,000 people who encountered technical problems will be able to take advantage of an extended February 22 deadline. The White House says 11.4 million Americans enrolled in private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act during the latest open enrollment period.
Greece put the finishing touches on a proposal to request an extension loan from its international creditors. The request has been a major sticking point in negotiations between the new Greek government and the 19 members of the Eurozone. The offer is expected to be submitted tomorrow, but German officials maintain Greece has to keep its original bailout agreement.
And with one eye on Greece, U.S. stocks ended the day with mostly small losses. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 18 points to close above 18000; the Nasdaq rose seven points; and the S&P 500 dropped less than a point.
And in China, over 200 million people traveled to their hometowns to celebrate the lunar new year, the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. Across the country, people welcomed the Year of the Sheep with elaborate light displays, dancing, and even a fireworks-like performance using molten iron.
The Chinese government did urge citizens to ease up on using fireworks to help curb toxic air pollution.
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